Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ahern voted in for a record third term as Irish PM


Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was elected for a record third term in succession on Thursday thanks to a coalition with the Greens who are tasting power for the first time.

Ahern, one of Europe's longest-serving leaders having come to power in 1997, was given a standing ovation in the Dail (lower house of parliament) as he was voted in by 89 votes to 76, three weeks after the May 24 polls.

He takes power at the head of a three-party alliance which is supported by most of the independent lawmakers in the 166-seat chamber.

It marks a major personal triumph for Ahern, 55, the first Taoiseach (prime minister) to be chosen for three successive five-year terms.

The new coalition is led by Ahern's centrist pro-enterprise Fianna Fail party, once more with the right-of center Progressive Democrats (PDs), while the environmentalist Greens enter an Irish government for the first time.

"I welcome the opportunity to serve the people in the years ahead with colleagues from the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats with the support of others who see the merits of our program," he told lawmakers.

In a speech trumpeting the strong economic performance of Ireland, Ahern also said that peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland had dominated his last decade in power.

"There now exists between British and Irish, Nationalists and Unionists, an agreed consensus on our shared future. It is not an end of history but it is a new beginning," he said.

The secret wheeler-dealing in the three weeks since the poll has left Fianna Fail dominating a comfortable broad-based Dail working majority of 89.

Fianna Fail won 78 seats, but will be without former justice and sports minister John O'Donoghue who was elected on Thursday as Ceann Comhairle, the speaker of the country's 30th parliament since independence from Britain.

The Greens have six seats while the PDs have two.

The PDs had been the junior partner in two-party coalitions with Ahern since 1997. However, down from eight seats in the last parliament, that meant a two-way partnership between Fianna Fail and the PDs was not viable.

Four of the Dail's five independent lawmakers have pledged their support to the coalition.

Ahern, who has said he will retire at 60 just before the next general election due in mid-2012, later appointed two Green lawmakers and one PD as senior ministers in his 15-strong Cabinet.

His deputy prime minister (Tanaiste) is his Fianna Fail colleague -- and possible heir apparent -- Brian Cowen, who also will continue as finance minister.

Dermot Ahern, no relation of the PM, remains foreign minister.

The only new face in the line-up of Fianna Fail ministers is Brian Lenihan, who was promoted to minister for justice.

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